Home distillation, or the process of making your own potable alcohol, is a practice that unnecessarily scares many, according to Smiley's Home Distilling and the Home Distiller websites. Some of the biggest fears are based on myths or improper use of faulty equipment. Some of the dangers home distillation does pose can be avoided with proper precautions.
Lead poisoning is a danger that can be avoided with proper supplies. Never use lead-based solder or old car parts. According to the Home Distiller website, using an old car radiator for the still's vapour condenser used to be a popular practice---a practice that is definitely dangerous as the radiators were soldered with lead. Lead will leech into your finished product and make you ill. Construct your still with silver-based solder or weld the pieces together.
Fire is another danger with home distillation. Two ways to keep fire at bay include keeping a fire extinguisher nearby and insuring your still is clean and properly maintained. Check your still for any faulty, leaking or blocked equipment and, if you find any, fix it or clean it before using. The Home Distiller site warns the liquid you are creating is just as flammable as gasoline, so don't smoke while distilling or otherwise subject to liquid to an open flame. Make sure your collection jars are secure and stable so they do not topple over. Also keep the outlet tube above the surface of the liquid in the collection jar. Always distil in a well-ventilated area. Install a residual current device, which is an advanced circuit breaker, on any electrical heating equipment.
Improper distillation can cause some mighty headaches and bad hangovers, warns Smiley's Home Distilling website. Headaches come about from an abundance of fusel alcohols left in the finished product. A small amount of fusel alcohol is OK, and also present in rum, brandy and whiskey for flavouring. Avoid an overabundance of fusel alcohols with a still that properly separates the alcohol's components.
Other dangers associated with home distillation are largely mythical, both sites note. Going blind will only happen if someone happens to drink or use large amounts of wood alcohol, also known as methyl alcohol, in the distillation process. Horror stories of blindness usually came about from people using methyl-based products from their garages, according to Smiley's. Another mythical danger is explosions, Smiley's also notes. Yes, the threat of fire is real, but there is no danger of the boiler blowing up during the distillation process since no pressure is building up within it.